I approach teaching at all levels with a view to opening minds to what motivates diverse worldviews. For instance, in the advanced-level oral communication class I am teaching in fall 2017, the themes of “nation, régions et villes” offer an avenue for students to challenge the idea of a monolithic French identity. A discussion of France’s ban on headscarves in the public sphere prompts students to work together to articulate the arguments for and against this ban, leading them to note how this debate disrupts the paradigmatic left-right political divide. As a result, they come to understand the ideologies even of those with views different from their own, all while collaboratively improving their proficiency in oral expression. Moreover, students of all backgrounds can express their own convictions with confidence knowing that I encourage the discussion of myriad viewpoints.
I ensure that discussions of this sort take place in introductory language courses, as well. In the unit dedicated to food vocabulary in elementary French classes, I include a comparative discussion of eating habits across cultures. Students often express surprise when they learn that a typical French breakfast amounts to yesterday’s partially-stale bread softened in coffee or hot chocolate. Rather than having students linger over this “strangeness,” I prompt them to consider what American eating practices France’s residents might find equally shocking in light of the French gastronomic traditions with which they are familiar. Students generally cite fast food and TV dinners as customs that would clash with the hours-long, social meals that the French cherish. In devising these comparisons so that students reflect on how foreigners might view them, I aim to dismantle barriers between “us” and “them” and to cultivate appreciation for differences.
Being able to see the world from another’s point of view is a valuable skill, as technology today allows communication to overcome geographical distance. I therefore seek to prioritize the use of digital tools in my classes. For example, I coordinated a project in an upper-level course on women writers, where students collaborated to collect metadata from Le Magasin des demoiselles, a 19th-century magazine for young women. Using a digital platform called Palladio, students visualized the relationship between authors’ nationality and the countries about which they wrote, spotlighting the abundance of transnational cultural exchanges that echoed contemporary experiences of social media. In addition to technological skills transferrable to other contexts, students came away from the project with an expanded appreciation for alterity, both in place and in time.